Spurs Can "Wing" It At Old Trafford

If there is any consolation for Harry Redknapp in the fact that, with Tottenham Hotspur already playing catch-up in the Premier League fixture list, this is not a particularly good time to be heading to Old Trafford, it is perhaps that it is never a good time for Spurs to play away at Manchester United. The famed winless streak at the home of the champions now stretches back over 21 years, while it is a decade since Spurs beat United anywhere in any competition.

Redknapp will be less concerned with history, however, and more with the current state of his squad after an unusually somnolent summer transfer window. Luka Modric, previously a target for United, may or may not be playing for Chelsea next month but rumours of his imminent departure have added a rare note of excitement during the close season as Spurs have shied away from the usual Redknapp‑reboot.

The contrast with Monday's opponents is notable. The United squad for this fixture last season contained seven players who have now left the club, with three major signings coming the other way. On the other hand, injuries aside, Spurs could field almost the same 11; only Robbie Keane has moved on. A trio of free transfers, the most significant of them a 40-year-old goalkeeper, is a meagre harvest in a summer that has seen Manchester City and Liverpool spend £96m between them.

It could yet be a combustible last 10 days of business, however. "It seems like it probably will happen," Redknapp said this week of the possible signing of Emmanuel Adebayor, while the current outlook is that Modric, who remains a class above any other midfielder at the club, is likely to stay.

Even without an influx of fresh meat there are potentially productive knots for Redknapp to unravel in his current squad. The 5-0 Europa League thrashing of Hearts on Thursday evening was an encouraging response to the frustration of having last week's opening Premier League fixture cancelled due to the ongoing disruption of Tottenham High Road. At the same time it also raised various questions that Redknapp will be keen to resolve.

Rafael van der Vaart looked irresistible at moments but could play for only an hour, as he often did last season. A fully fit, slimmed down Van der Vaart would be a genuine step forward. Similarly Jermain Defoe's goal will have been particularly welcome: there was great disappointment last season at the inability of Spurs' four international strikers to muster 20 Premier League goals between them. Defoe and Van der Vaart is the partnership Redknapp has quietly salivated over ever since he signed the Dutchman. Now would be the perfect moment for them to click decisively.

Despite the mixed omens, both recent and historical, at least one Spurs player will be looking forward to opening his domestic season at Old Trafford, particularly if Patrice Evra recovers from injury. Aaron Lennon looked to be in mid-season form against Hearts and at times he has also enjoyed a rare degree of success against the estimable Evra, most notably in the 2009 Carling Cup final. "People always say Aaron Lennon gives me a difficult game. But if you watch the games since then [the cup final], I don't think Lennon has beaten me once," Evra has objected.

Modric could return from injury for Spurs in midfield. But with both first-choice full-backs potentially missing for United and both Lennon and Gareth Bale in fine fettle, it could be on the flanks that Spurs look to prosper in what is an unusually urgent, if perennially ill-starred, visit to Old Trafford.

Exclusively by Barney Ronay

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